The clicking of the knitting needles and the creaking of the wooden rocker were the only sounds in the room. The grandfather clock had ceased ticking on March 22nd, 1961, the day Henri had died. It seemed like centuries ago that Adeline’s beloved had died of a stroke while working in their vegetable garden. She had, as tradition warranted in her border town of Crespin, in Northern France, stopped the pendulum in his favorite clock. Never again would Henri wind the mechanism that gave life to the mahogany clock he had bought for the tiny row house they had moved into when he was still a young worker at the glass factory.
The photos of him on the wall were still draped in the corner with a wide black mourning ribbon. Not that she could see them in the dim light of the dining room. As a widow with only her husband’s half pension, every centime mattered. She turned off the heat at night. She woke with the first light of day and went to sleep as soon as it was dark, so as not to have too large an electricity bill. She still occasionally used the brass oil lamp whose glass mantle Henri had blown for her at the glass factory. She liked its glow more than that of the harsh electric lightbulb dangling over her dining room’s oak table.
How Adeline missed this taciturn bear of a man who had given her two beautiful daughters! Both of their girls were married now. The youngest, Yvette, already had three children, one married and the other two nearing adulthood themselves. Their eldest daughter, Irene, had lost her first husband Roger at the end of WWII. She had married Louis, her first husband’s nurse at the hospital. Adeline tut-tutted and shook her head as she recalled the local tongue wagging from the neighborhood gossips, whispering that they just KNEW Irene and Louis had fallen in love before Roger passed on. The fools had not seen how Roger’s death nearly destroyed Irene, how she had stopped eating and wanted to die of sorrow. Irene and Roger had no children. Louis had a daughter with a first wife and had given up his parental visitation rights after a nasty divorce that had nearly undone him emotionally and financially ruined him. Adeline’s heart clenched as she recalled Irene’s sorrow at discovering that she was barren. She could not more have children with Louis than with Roger. All of Irene’s love went to her little sister Yvette’s eldest son, who was named after her beloved Roger. Adeline could not blame Irene for liking this young man who had been the light of her life since his birth in 1939. No matter how much she REALLY tried, she could not muster as much affection for his little brothers Yvon and Henri, even though the latter was named after HER Henri!
Adeline put her knitting in her basket, grabbed her English canes. Scooting up to the front edge of the rocker, she painfully got to her feet. She walked down the narrow kitchen and stepped carefully down a couple of steps into her backyard. It was increasingly hard to make her way to the outhouse. Her daughter Yvette had suggested many times that her parents should have modern bathing commodities installed, such as a bathroom and a toilet. Youngsters… with their newfangled ideas about comfort! As she awkwardly made her way to the outhouse, Adeline wondered what day it was. The yellow Tête à Tête daffodils were bobbing in the slight cold breeze. It must be April? Surely, it had been longer than that since Henri had passed on! Their cheery yellow color seemed to defy the advancing twilight. They mocked her grief-stricken heart! She lifted her English cane and stomped the offending flowers into a pulp, then wept the rest of the way to the outhouse. Henri had planted those bulbs for her during the previous Fall…
It was dark when she made her way back to her tiny house, exhausted from her long fit of weeping. She had not been able to sleep in her marriage bed since Henri had been laid in state in it for his wake. She could not! And had she been able to muster up the courage to sleep without him in their marriage bed, she was not sure she was physically able to make it up those narrow creaking stairs to their bedroom without his arm supporting her at the elbow. The edema in her legs had caused so much swelling she could not even tell she had ever had what Henri deemed the prettiest ankles of all the women in town. She now had what one of her grandkids – Not Roger of course – called “Cankles” a compound word of Calf and Ankle since the demarcation between the two was no longer visible. She had elephant legs, she thought… And how they ached and cracked if she was not careful and banged into furniture!
Long gone was the tiny body of her childhood days, when she used to hide inside the demijohn molds at the glass factory whenever the anti-child-labor inspectors arrived for a surprise inspection. Long gone was the lithe body of her courtship days when Henri could circle her corseted waist with both his hands. Long gone was the eager body with so many sensations that meant not waiting for marriage to give herself to Henri. Long gone was the voluptuous body she had managed to retain, even after giving birth to her eldest child Irene. How the town gossips had murmured behind their hands at the obvious baby bump she sported inside her wedding dress. She had not been able to marry in white, but she had not cared an ounce what the old biddies thought. She was 18 years old, pregnant and utterly in love with her groom and with this unborn baby. Her body had thickened to solid as an oak trunk after she had given birth to Yvette thirteen years after Irene’s birth. And Henri had loved without reservation no matter what she looked like. “More of you to love!” he used to say, whenever she looked critically at her lack of waistline in the mirror.
Adeline chuckled to herself as she leaned back on the tall boy dresser to keep her balance. She used to run faster than any of the boys in town and now, she could not even stand up on her own without losing her balance… She took off the pins that held her bun in place in its black hairnet. Her long grey hair tumbled down her back, smelling like violets. She still had leftover violet-scented “brillantine” hair cream in the metal tin Henri had bought from a Benedictine abbey during a trip to Limoges. It kept her wiry flyaway hair in its bun, even on windy days! She took off the silver daisy brooch Henri had crafted for her in the days of their courtship. He was always so clever with his hands!
She took off her black floral dress, with the scattering of white daisies, her favorite flowers. She wondered for the umpteenth time since Henri’s death if it was OK not to be dressed in the complete black of mourning. Surely, in spite of what the gossips thought and never failed to express to her when she picked up her mail, Henri would not begrudge her the white daisies… not when on their rare days off from their duties at the glass factory, they wandered hand in hand in the pastures of their beloved Avesnois region and he made daisy chain rings and crowns for her. She smiled as she remembered the bed of daisies on which they reclined after picnics and held hands. She remembered that one time when they had both scrambled over the hedgerow’s bushes in fear when a territorial bull calf had interrupted their picnic. Those were the days!
Adeline sat on the edge of the cot her son-in-law Camille and grandson Roger had set up downstairs for her when they realized that she could not climb the treacherous stairs without endangering herself. She lay there in the dark, her thoughts spinning. Was it Thursday? Or Friday? Every day since Henri’s death had been “Blurrsday”! Each day merging into another lonely day, the radio silent because it still felt too disrespectful to turn it on while in mourning. Her grey-blue eyes were beginning to film over with cataracts. She could still use the magnifying glass Henri had bought when his age-related macular degeneration made reading even large print books impossible. She often tried to read the leatherbound notebook where he had carefully penned their favorite love songs, but that brought on a renewed ache in her heart… made the missing sharper! More often than not, she had trouble seeing her knitting, and got frustrated whenever she dropped stitches and could not see well enough to pick them back up. She knew that pretty soon, she would have to lay this favorite pastime aside. And then what?
Yvon and Henri rarely visited, resentful as they were that she had not been able to show them the same amount of devoted grandmother love as she had Roger. Her daughter Irene and her husband Louis lived nearby and checked on her occasionally. Both worked hard, he as a nurse and she as an enamel factory worker, and occasionally turned into whenever they could and into rarely. Her beloved grandson Roger’s visits were the only times when she knew for sure that it must be Sunday, his day off at the Renault dealership where he served as chief accountant. She had not seen Roger and his wife Marie-Thé since Henri’s funeral.
She could not even bring herself to resent their absence. Marie-Thé had just miscarried halfway through her first pregnancy. Doctors were not sure she would be able to bear other children after this devastating loss. Of course, Roger HAD to be at his wife’s bedside! It was the way of things. Her brain understood he was not neglecting his duties to her as a favorite grandson! He was exactly where he needed to be, at his wife’s bedside, trying to comfort her. And yet her heart ached. She felt old… left behind… useless to anyone anymore.
Just as the days melded into one another, SHE had become a blurr in her own landscape. Her days now consisted of going from her bed to the outhouse, from the outhouse to her chair, from her chair to the outhouse, and from there to bed again. She who used to cook the most inventive meals with whatever Henri could scrounge up at market on their tight budget, had lost her appetite for food. She did not cook anymore. Oh she could still make a mean tapioca veggie broth when she knew Roger and Marie-Thé were coming for a visit, but cooking for one only added up to no longer cooking for two!
She wept as sleep refused to come. She prayed to her favorite Saint Rita for comfort. The house was too quiet without Henri’s soft snoring. She wondered if it was a sin to wish she could soon follow Henri wherever he had gone. Alone. Alone. Alone… Lost in a series of long empty “blurrsdays”.
Day after day, Spring gave way to summer without Adeline’s notice. The garden which had been Henri’s pride and joy in his retirement days now sported weeds as high as his rotund waist had been. She could see those weeds from the kitchen window. The pergola over the garden gate was thick with honeysuckle. The air was fragrant with its heady scent. It must be late July… early August? She had stopped crossing the days off on the Fire Station calendar she bought each Christmas season from the door-to-door local firefighters. Surely, it was still 1961 since the firefighters had not come yet for their yearly fundraising drive?
Missing Henri had become habit, though the pain is still just as sharp in her heart. Adeline could almost see him now, stooped over in the garden, checking on the strawberry patch under its mulch for new growth: His favorite sweater, so old it has holes at the elbows, tucked into his wool pants with the waist so high his namesake grandson teased that he wore antiques… The wide suspenders barely help up those wool pants that had become too big on his shrinking frame[LT1] . In his final days he had woven a length of twine through his pants belt loops and tied it around his waist. When she had told him she could buy him a new belt, he had argued it was a needless expense.
She remembered the mad dash to his side when she had seen him stand up, stretch, his hands pushing against a crick in his lower back. He had wiped sweat off his brow with his checkered handkerchief – sweating in March? – and had dropped straight down out of her side. Already growing cold by the time she had reached him… Henri had left her. She remembered the strange keening sound she had not known she was making, and the neighbors alerted by her howl, running over and pulling her from his body.
She turned away from the window, looking down at her own shrunken frame. Not eating much anymore… her dress hung on her shapelessly… for the first time since Henri’s passing, she turned on the radio. It was August 6th, 1961. Adeline calculated how many “blurrsdays” she had endured since Henri’s death. Too many!! Jacques Anquetil had won the Tour de France for the second time in a row. How happy Henri would have been at the news! It was Sunday. Maybe Roger and Marie-Thé would visit! Maybe she should go get herbs among the weeds in the garden and start a veggie broth! Adeline turned off the radio, interrupting Luis Mariano’s “L’Amour est un Bouquet de Violettes”, one of Henri’s favorite songs. She could not bear to hear the song. Too soon! She grabbed her English canes and slowly made her way to the abandoned garden patch. She ignored the sudden stabbing pain that had shot through her chest and left arm. Sweating in August was normal, right? Another pain, sharper this time! Adeline dropped to the parched ground, in the exact same spot where Henri had died. When Roger and Marie-Thé did stop by for a surprise visit, they had to let themselves in through the side gate since Adeline was not coming to the front door. They found her in the garden, lying on her side, clutching the daisy pin that held her shawl closed. Her thin-lipped smile made her look at peace in death. The “Blurrsday” months had ended.